Coping with Aging Parents
According to the Home Care Association of America, more than 70% of seniors will need assistance with Daily Living Activities as they age. Physical limitations might impede their ability to take care of shopping and household chores and they may need transportation to purchase food or to attend doctor appointments. In some cases, older adults can no longer remain independent. Chronic illness, sudden disability from a stroke or a fall or recovering from surgery can leave the elderly needing extra help for longer periods of time. Considering the advanced age issues of general frailty and age-related cognitive changes, it may be time for the family to consider greater lifestyle changes.
Many people are able to help their aging parents. Running errands for them or providing the transportation for various appointments is often possible even with a busy schedule. What can become a challenge is when the elderly parent/s can no longer live alone. Costs for senior and assisted living can be extraordinary and because of that, families may make the decision to have the elderly parent move in with them. AARP reports that forty percent of the senior population lives with their family caregivers which they refer to as “Shared Living."
Of course, accommodations have to be made to help the aging parent transition to a new way of life. Adding safety equipment to bathrooms, possibly moving bedrooms around to help avoid stairs for the new resident or paying close attention to furniture arrangements to leave clear paths. One of the biggest challenges is to acknowledge the new role of the parent within the family paying special attention not to demean them or take away the autonomy that they enjoy. The aging parent is not a child. They have lived a full life, and they want the dignity and acknowledgement of their life lived. Communication skills can help manage the new dynamic and it’s something that everyone can participate in, not just the child of the parent.
It is a fact that dynamics change with the addition of a new person in the household. There can be feelings of loss of privacy and independence with caregivers. Even with the most independent parents, there are still changes that affect the way the household runs. Caregivers have to remember to take care of themselves as well both mentally and physically to avoid excessive caregiver stress. There are processes that can help to put in place to avoid caregiver burnout:
1) Get Respite. Take a break! Make time for self -care in or out of your home.
2) Research caregiver resources. Look for federal, state or local programs to provide financial assistance or other services.
3) Set Boundaries. Practice saying “no” when it comes to requests or obligations that are draining or stressful, like holiday or family gatherings. Put yourself and your needs first!
4) Accept your limitations. Recognize the difference in what you can and cannot change.
Avoid dwelling on what you cannot change and focus on extending your loved one’s independence.
5) Get Organized. Prioritize, make lists and establish daily routines. Staying organized helps day to day responsibilities go more smoothly and seem less overwhelming. It will help in being as prepared as possible for emergencies.
6) Communicate. Keep in touch with family members and friends that are sources of social interaction and support. They can be members of your care team as well! Ask for help and accept help when it’s offered!
7) Seek caregiver support. Join a support group in person or online. Particular support groups are available, such as Alzheimer's or other memory issue groups.
8) Stay Active. Even a short walk outdoors is a good refresher. Healthy balanced diets increase mood, general wellbeing and immune response.
9) Consider taking time away from work. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for immediate family members. Be sure to protect your own future is important, however. Career, financial stability and retirement benefits for the caregiver should remain a top priority.
10) Attend to your own physical and mental health. See your doctor for routine check-ups and preventative care. Do things that help you decompress, such as watching mindless TV, reading or getting coffee with friends.
Having an elderly loved one become a part of the household family can be one of the richest experiences. However, even when the transition goes smoothly, there are issues that may be difficult to address and handle. We at Georgetown Counseling and Wellness are ready to help you and your family navigate the issues of shifting family dynamics to make these transitions as seamless as they can be. Please call the number at the top of the page, or click the “make an appointment” button and a member of our team will reach out to help you navigate through this journey successfully.